Porter at One Month…

My porter has been bottle conditioning for four weeks now and I just completed my second taste test. The first one was done at two weeks and I’ve concluded that the additional two weeks of aging have been beneficial. I’ve heard that, in general, homebrew is ready to drink at two months of bottle conditioning, so I’ll continue to check it every two weeks until I feel it’s worth sharing with others.

I’m finding the need to question my preconceptions of how “good beer” should taste. I have tasted a wide variety beer styles over the past 25 years and have become quite opinionated about the flavors I prefer in a beer. Yet I’m realizing that there are skills and equipment that a professional brewer utilizes that most homebrewers do not. Also, there are things that commercial breweries must do to their beer, such as filtering and pasteurization to help the beer survive the distribution process, that a homebrewer doesn’t need to be concerned with. Does that mean that the professionally brewed beer will always be better… or is it just different? Hmmm…

That got me to thinking about a story told to me years ago about a local crafter. She was wearing a garment and someone complimented her on it. When the person found out that it was handmade, the crafter was told, “That’s amazing. It looks like it was made by a machine!” This comment was meant as a compliment because the stitching was so perfect and regular, something that can be hard to do with handcrafts, but the crafter was irritated by the comment. When did a machine-made product become the standard by which quality is judged? Why isn’t the irregularity that reflects our humanness valued higher than the repetitive consistency of machines?

After discussing this issue with my husband Chuck, he pointed out that in the business world consistency equals quality. If a business can have their product meet the customer’s expectations each and every time, then quality has been achieved. Many business have been extremely successful with this business plan – McDonald’s, Denny’s, Budweiser, Coors, and pretty much any national chain store in existence. Quality is achieved through consistency. But is this really how we should be judging quality? If a Big Mac is considered the epitome of quality because we can count on it to taste the same each and every time, maybe it’s time for us to adjust our standard by which we determine quality. Perhaps it’s time for us to learn to be more open to new experiences, to be a bit more flexible, to allow for the variances in seasons and conditions, and to be happy with experiences that are often good, but have the potential to be amazing – even if you can’t count on that each and every time.

Chuck also pointed out the advantages homebrewers have in terms of freshness of flavor. Homebrewers don’t have to filter or pasteurize their beer, they have complete control over how well it’s stored and cared for, and they can control the manner in which it’s served. Homebrewers can also learn the basics of chemistry and how the various ingredients will affect the flavor of their beer, thus being able to impart a certain level of control over the end product. Basic skills are essential to keep the beer from tasting bad, but do homebrewers really need to strive to be able to produce the same beer over and over again? Does consistency equal quality or is variety the spice of life?

As much as I enjoy being able to purchase an item knowing that I will get exactly the quality and flavor I have come to expect, I think we need to also allow for the irregularities of our humanness to show through and to realize that sometimes when the item is different it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Perhaps it just means it’s time to learn something new and expand our horizons.

Now back to my beer. So far my porter is good, but not great. There is an aroma that could either be the yeast or the malt/malt extract coming through. It’s not necessarily a bad aroma, but it’s different than what I’m used to. The flavor is good, but not where I want to settle. I need to find out how to get more mouth-feel in my beer. It currently has a “thin” flavor and feel that is fairly common with homebrew. Perhaps it’s time to move to all-grain brewing for my next batch, rather than doing another extract batch. I definitely have more to learn about this process and am enjoying doing so.

Next taste test will be in two weeks. I’m guessing that by May 1st it’ll be time to consider this batch done and ready to drink. In the meantime, I’ll continue to plan my second homebrew… which will definitely be another porter.

Jenne Hiigel

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Beer & Yarn Weekend…

This was mostly a brewery tour weekend, but we did pick off a few yarn stores in the process. The inspiration for the tour was our daughter’s 21st birthday. She lives in San Francisco and has been wanting to visit some breweries in Northern California as soon as she turned 21. We decided to make it a family trip. Our oldest daughter flew out from Wisconsin and my son, husband and I drove up from San Luis Obispo. After a slumber party in San Francisco we began our adventure.

First stop was Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Booneville for a tour of the brewery, some beer tasting and a picnic. Next stop was North Coast Brewing Company in Fort Bragg. The visit with North Coast and our stay at the Beachcomber Motel were both awesome. We arrived in Fort Bragg early enough to visit the local yarn shop Navarro River Knits and, of course, walked away with a few skeins of yarn.

The next day was a trip to Lost Coast Brewing Company in Eureka. A long drive over very winding roads, but a great visit at Lost Coast that included a tour of their brewery. While in Eureka we stopped in at Boll Weaver Yarn Shop. Walking in the front door we were greeted with some beautiful spinning fiber and then worked our way around the shop to see all their yarns. Much fun and, of course, we had to take a few items home with us.

On the last day of our trip we stopped in Hopland to visit the Medocino Brewing Company‘s historic brewpub. Our final stop was in Santa Rosa for a visit to Russian River Brewing Company. The drive into San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge on a gorgeously clear and sunny day was the perfect way to wrap up our trip.

North Coast Brewing Company was our favorite brewery by unanimous vote of our family. Their Old Stock Ale is incredibly yummy. We also got to taste the same beer that had been barrel aged for almost two years in bourbon barrels and then one that had been aged in brandy barrels. Opinions were split on which barrel-aged beer was best, so I can’t give you a winner there.

After visiting yarn shops and then brewpubs it became clear that it’s time for someone to open a knit-pub, where both good beer and yarn are sold. That would make yarn shops more fun and hopefully more profitable (so more of them could stay in business).

We also visited several awesome bookstores, but that’s another story to be told at another time.

-Jenne Hiigel

Bottled Up…

My porter had been in the secondary fermentor for two weeks and was ready for bottling yesterday.

Chuck had been helping me prep for this moment since December. For Christmas he got me several dish-machine racks that hold 18 bottles each and built me a shelving system to hold them in our storage room. He coordinated with our local pub to have them save their German beer bottles so I could use them for my homebrew. Then he washed all the bottles, peeled off the labels, and scraped off the foil. When it came time to bottle my beer yesterday, the bottles were all ready to go and conveniently in racks. What a sweet guy!

After laying out all my bottling gear and reviewing the bottling section of the Basic Brewing DVD, I was ready to get started. The bottles Chuck saved for me were larger than the typical 12 oz bottles, which meant I didn’t need as many of them. They hold almost 17 oz, so he brought up two racks – which is 36 bottles. With 12 oz bottles I would have needed 48 of them. I definitely recommend the larger bottles.

After racking the beer from the secondary fermentor to the bottling bucket and boiling the corn sugar in a small amount of beer for 10 minutes, I was ready to start filling bottles. The bottles filled up nicely and I had an appropriate amount of air space in each one. The process was a bit messy, but not overly. I didn’t have any major mishaps to increase the amount of clean up that I had to do.

After filling the bottles, it was time to cap them. That was my favorite part of the process. It took a few bottles to get used to the hand-held bottle cap crimper, but I soon got on a roll and was converting my filled bottles to finished bottles of beer. They look so cool all capped up!

I’ll wait two weeks before taste-testing my first bottle, but am expecting it to be one to two months before my porter is really ready to drink. I’ve decided on a name for my first batch of beer. It’s “Jenne’s I-hope-it’s-not-crap Porter.” We’ve been tasting the beer each step along the way and have found no off-flavors so far; so we’re optimistic that it might actually be drinkable!

Now I have to figure out what to brew next!

-Jenne Hiigel